Wii U: Expert viewpoints on Nintendo's games console launch

 

BBC Click’s Marc Cieslak previews Nintendo’s latest home console

Related Stories

If you can't beat them join them - after seeing much of its casual gaming target audience defect to the iPad and other tablets, Nintendo is aiming to revitalise its fortunes with the Wii U.

The machine - which launches in the US ahead of other markets - comes with a touchscreen tablet-like controller.

The innovation is designed to operate as a second screen opening up new gaming possibilities: early examples see it act as a map, a gun scope, and means to see objects otherwise hidden on the main display.

It also offers new control mechanisms - in some games drawing a line on-screen makes the character follow a matching path, in another it simulates a bow and arrow. It can even act as a fall-back device, allowing users to continue playing their way through a title when someone else takes over the television to watch a show.

ZombiU screenshot The Gamepad reveals details about characters highlighted in security camera feeds in the game ZombiU

Nintendo needs consumers to love the innovation.

The firm posted its first annual net loss in April and has fallen further into the red since.

Its deficit totals 71.1bn yen ($875m; £551m) for the 18 months running to the beginning of October.

The new console may initially put further strain on its finances. The firm is selling the Wii U for a lower price than it costs to make and market, something that was not the case with the original Wii.

But the move to hold down the price of its launch packages will pay off if it can take advantage of its lead on Sony and Microsoft's next-generation machines to attract more sales and then convince owners to buy lots of games and other online content, from which it does profit.

The risk is that it fails to excite and is forced to consider following Sega's path by releasing its Mario, Zelda and Pikmin franchises on other companies' hardware.

The BBC asked four experts for their view of the risks and rewards facing the Japanese firm.

A HARD SELL

Start Quote

Michael Pachter

It may find itself generating losses for the next several years”

End Quote

Michael Pachter is managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. Although Nintendo has sizeable cash reserves - it had more than 478bn yen ($5.9bn; £3.7bn) to hand at the end of September - he is concerned shareholders will see little benefit from the Wii U.

Nintendo has been a difficult investment. The company has seen its fortunes turn over the last year as competition from mobile and social games eroded its fan base.

In the latter part of the last decade, Nintendo's Wii console dominated market share among more casual gamers, and its DS handheld console dominated market share among predominantly pre-teen casual gamers in the West.

But with the advent of social games, Nintendo found its Wii console competing for attention from the very fan base it developed - women over 30-years-old - and software sales for the Wii began to plunge.

Similarly, with the increased penetration of smartphones and tablets, the DS's addressable market began to contract. While the next handheld iteration, the 3DS, is selling quite well, it is clear that the addressable market for dedicated handheld consoles will continue to contract, particularly as smartphones and tablets proliferate.

Michael Pachter

  • Covers entertainment retail and movies for Los Angeles based Wedbush Securities
  • More than 20 years experience in the finance industry

As its sales began to decline, Nintendo did little to adjust its cost structure, and has instead made large bets on the 3DS and the new Wii U.

While each console is expected to perform well, neither is expected to achieve the glory of the DS or Wii, respectively.

Should Nintendo continue to aggressively ramp up its expenses to support growth of the installed base for the 3DS and Wii U, it may find itself generating losses for the next several years.

We are not optimistic that the company can return to its former glory days, and remain neutral on Nintendo shares.

PERSONALITY CRISIS?

Start Quote

Jason Schreier

The controller might look strange, but it feels great”

End Quote

Jason Schreier is a reporter at Kotaku. The gaming site previously reported that having two screens to look at could prove confusing, but he is now positive the system will find an audience.

Much fuss has been made about the Wii U's inability to decide what it is. Is it meant to be a machine for blood-thirsty Xbox gamers? A grandma-friendly tennis simulator? Some bizarre combination of the two?

The common critique is that Wii U is not as accessible as its wildly popular predecessor.

Where with the Wii you could pick up a remote and instantly know what to do with your hands, the Wii U requires far more instruction. For proof, just check out Nintendo Land, a launch game whose tutorials are as long as a round of Wii Tennis.

The Wii U's controller, while extraordinarily comfortable, is not immediately intuitive to your average layperson.

It's got buttons, joysticks, and even a touchscreen; inexperienced gamers could have trouble figuring out what to use and when to use it.

This inaccessibility could be a Bowser-sized obstacle in Nintendo's quest to take over our living rooms.

But people who do look into Nintendo's new system may be surprised at just how robust its software library is.

Jason Schreier

  • Lives in New York where he writes for the Kotaku games news site
  • Has also written for Wired, Joystiq, Edge and Eurogamer

With a collection of surprising indie games on the horizon as well as a strong lineup of original games like New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, ZombiU, and Bayonetta 2, the Wii U's short-term line-up is strong.

Once customers get used to the unorthodox controller, they may find themselves loving how it lets them interact with games, so long as the Wii U continues to deliver consistently high-quality software.

The controller might look strange, but it feels great, and playing around with it has been nothing but fun so far.

So forget about the Wii U's existential dilemma. Bring on the games.

DEVELOPERS' DILEMMA

Start Quote

Will Freeman

Indies, students and hobbyists can begin crafting games for the console”

End Quote

Will Freeman is editor of Develop, a trade magazine and website for the global games development sector. It has reported that studios like Bethesda have held off creating titles for the Wii U, discouraged by the cost of having to rework games released on other platforms to suit Nintendo's unique hardware. However, he thinks the firm has an opportunity to cosy up to the indie scene.

The Wii U is a very different console from anything that has come before it. Its atypical make-up - namely the extra screens and combination of numerous different player inputs - means that applying established game design models and technologies to the platform could be deemed a tough job.

That might be the reason some games development giants are adopting a wait-and-see approach to supporting the platform.

Many developers claimed delight at how relatively "easy" it was to upgrade from making games for Nintendo's GameCube to building Wii titles. That may not be the case this time around.

However, the Wii U isn't necessarily inaccessible. In fact, thanks to a technology named Unity it maybe that even indies, students and hobbyists can begin crafting games for the console.

Unity is an "engine" - a complete solution for making games.

Will Freeman

  • Edits Develop magazine in Hertfordshire
  • Once worked as a games industry press officer

Initially, it was the darling of small-scale developers, defined by the company mantra of democratising games development. Over the years, though, it has been adopted by the industry's big names.

And now Unity has secured a deal that will see its technology distributed with every Wii U development kit dispatched to Nintendo's first and third-party licensee studios.

That not only means those established outfits have an established solution for creating Wii U games; it also means Unity's 1.2 million existing customers - scores of them indies and students - already own a familiar tool that can now let them build games for the new console.

How open Nintendo is to accepting the work of games development's grassroots coders remains to be seen, but the company must have pursued the Unity deal knowing it would make the Wii U more attractive to studios of every size.

TV TIMES

Start Quote

Ed Barton

The challenge for Nintendo will be to differentiate Wii U's entertainment proposition”

End Quote

Ed Barton is director of digital media strategies at the consultancy Strategy Analytics. Nintendo made a last-minute announcement that the Wii U's on-demand and interactive TV and movie facilities would not be ready for its US launch. He believes they will face a further struggle when they ultimately launch in December.

Offering a range of entertainment services has become a negative differentiator for home electronics: if your device doesn't offer access to the services which a given audience knows and loves then it will count against you because your competitors will.

Wii U will offer Netflix, Hulu and Amazon streaming video services for the US and I fully expect them to cater for territorial tastes in other key markets, such as iPlayer for the UK or Viaplay for the Nordics.

It's important to remember that people now enjoy a dizzying array of options for which device to turn on when considering their entertainment needs.

Wii U has to make the case to turn to it rather than a set-top box connected TV, competing games console - Xbox's extensive range of TV partners makes it a formidable competitor in this respect - and even a tablet or smartphone. All the alternatives offer an excellent range of entertainment options which are improving on a daily basis.

Ed Barton

  • Digital media strategies director at the Milton Keynes office of consultants Strategy Analytics
  • Studied modern history at university

The challenge for Nintendo will be to differentiate Wii U's entertainment proposition and take maximum advantage of the qualities that only it can offer: in particular a tightly integrated companion touchscreen in the Wii U controller and the interface improvements to controlling the first screen and content discovery that this should enable.

Being a console manufacturer is no longer about just hardware and games sales: Nintendo needs to be thinking in terms of audience engagement, revenue-per-user, churn reduction and an increasingly competitive world outside of video gaming which looks jealously on every second someone spends on a games console.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 93.

    @ Frank Lund

    You have made some remarkably ignorant remarks about video games, the tech that drives them, the economic output and the players that use them.

    For someone that clearly dislikes video games I wonder why you would concern yourself with this discussion.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 92.

    Is anyone else here old enough to remember the Sega Gamegear...?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 91.

    Nintendo usually make good games, often classic games. That alone will help this sell.

    Comparing a games console to a tablet is misleading. Tablets are just under-specced laptops that can't even play PC games...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    Nintendo goes a completely different direction to its rivals and look what happens, both song and microsoft bring out similar devices after the Wiis huge success.

    I think they were right with the N64 games - circuit boards basically and with todays technology they can be made far smaller, easier to store and more data than a cd. I'm not going to bet against them!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 89.

    The Nintendo Wii U is probably the only hope for seeing games other than sports/driving games and war simulation, first person shooter or RPG.

    Games used to be a lot more fun and varied.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 88.

    If Sony could please release a similar screen in time for the launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines, I'd be a happy chap! :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 87.

    @Tams

    I can see the point of asymmetric to a degree, D&D style games with a Dungeon Master etc. but with 3 kids I can only see it causing squabbles and turning into a tug-o-war over the special controller the minute I turn my back!

    The timing of release is a concern too, with Nintendo trying to get in before the next gen Sony / MS but that tactic was an unmitigated disaster for Sega with the DC

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    82.Kelly
    21 Minutes ago



    The paper work and tax may be "crooked" (not straight) but they are legal. [legal-ish].

    +++

    The liqidators of our company revealed that the date figures had been added to the pounds and pence. Do Starbucks' accountants do the same?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 85.

    Not interested.Why?Because after 6 months of being THE must have item it sits redundant on a shelf gathering dust because the next must have is out costing more and yet offering very little that is different.I would prefer it if game hardware was upgradeable but that doesnt get people spending money does it?Seen through the ruse,not buying,My ps2 lasted a year,and at £300 it wasnt worth the money

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    @ 81. IneedaWii

    You're missing the point asymmetric gameplay. Only one person (and possibly two in the future, but Nintendo don't seem keen on that) is supposed to have a tablet controller and thus has a different view to the rest of the players.

    Not that developers have to use the tablet controller at all if they don't want to. They can just treat it as a more powerful Wii if they want.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 83.

    81.IneedaWii
    7 Minutes ago

    From what I've read you can only have one of the tablet controllers, and they're going to cost over £100 if you need to replace them. If only one player can have a tablet how is it fair? Furthermore would you trust your kids with a £100 joypad?



    +++
    My boss's little grandkids have expensive iPads to misuse.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 82.

    @70.Frank Lund
    Allegedly, it makes commercial sense for Starbucks to flog coffee etc. at a loss in UK.
    ============
    Rof lol ho ho ho ho ho (must be near Christmas).

    If ANY firm traded at a loss for more than a few week they would go the way of COMET... which still has some viability in its stock holdings.

    The paper work and tax may be "crooked" (not straight) but they are legal. [legal-ish].

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 81.

    The Wii was a hit because it was a very social all-ages machine.

    The concept of the Wii U looks closer to an oversized, non-portable DS.

    From what I've read you can only have one of the tablet controllers, and they're going to cost over £100 if you need to replace them. If only one player can have a tablet how is it fair? Furthermore would you trust your kids with a £100 joypad?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    It would be foolish to try and forecast if a games console will be a success or not. Sods law has much of an impact upon such outcomes.

    The way forward is not exactly the way I would prefer it, but I envisage much more downloading of content and sociability of internet gaming.
    Usually the bigger the screen, the better the involvement but adequate size is needed for mobility.

    TV Licences needed?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 79.

    76.TheJags
    11 Minutes ago


    In all honesty, the gaming market - far from being summed up by the angry, socially inept 14 year-old stereotype - is one of the more intelligent consumer markets out there.

    +++

    The intelligent people are those who devised the hardware and sftware of the gaming engines, not those who pretend to be killer heroes rather than learning.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 78.

    74.Joseph_F
    14 Minutes ago
    lol. all the comments here raging against video games. mad minimum wagers no doubt, jealous of the computer nerds who pull 6 figures.
    truth hurts :)

    +++

    The Low Drive mob that buy the product of the High Drive "nerds" won't be making cash as they "kill" the on-screen figures.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 77.

    The Wii was a groundbreaker. The Wiiu has big footsteps to follow. Good luck Nintendo!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 76.

    People like to bitch about the Call of Duty-esque shooters, but many fantastic, well-written, absorbing games like Portal 2, Skyrim, Demon's Souls and Journey have done extremely well.

    In all honesty, the gaming market - far from being summed up by the angry, socially inept 14 year-old stereotype - is one of the more intelligent consumer markets out there.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 75.

    74.Joseph_F
    4 Minutes ago
    lol. all the comments here raging against video games. mad minimum wagers no doubt, jealous of the computer nerds who pull 6 figures.
    truth hurts :)

    +++
    The gamer that I know gets it only because his dad is the boss, he can't even solve simple maths or technical problems.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 74.

    lol. all the comments here raging against video games. mad minimum wagers no doubt, jealous of the computer nerds who pull 6 figures.
    truth hurts :)

 

Page 1 of 5

 

More Technology stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.